Hush-A-Phone Corp. v. United States

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Hush-A-Phone Corp. v. United States
District of Columbia Court of Appeals Seal.svg
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Full case nameHush-A-Phone Corporation and Harry C. Tuttle, Petitioners v. United States of America and Federal Communications Commission, Respondents, and American Telephone and Telegraph Company et al., and United States Independent Telephone Association, Intervenors
ArguedOctober 4 1956
DecidedNovember 8 1956
Citation(s)238 F.2d 266; 99 U.S. App. D.C. 190; 1956 U.S. App. LEXIS 4023
Tariffs on Hush-A-Phone device were unwarranted interference with telephone subscriber's right reasonably to use his telephone in ways which are privately beneficial without being publicly detrimental. FCC order set aside and proceedings remanded.
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingChief Judge Henry White Edgerton; Circuit Judges Wilbur Kingsbury Miller, David L. Bazelon
Case opinions
MajorityBazelon, joined by Edgerton, Miller
Laws applied
Communications Act of 1934

Hush-A-Phone v. United States, 238 F.2d 266 (D.C. Cir. 1956) was a seminal ruling in United States telecommunications law decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hush-A-Phone Corporation marketed a small, cup-like device which mounted on the speaking party's microphone, reducing the risk of conversations being overheard and increasing sound fidelity for the listening party. AT&T, citing the Communications Act of 1934, which stated in part that the company had the right to make charges and dictate "the classifications, practices, and regulations affecting such charges," claimed the right to "forbid attachment to the telephone of any device 'not furnished by the telephone company.'" During this era, the phones were leased from the phone company, not owned by the consumer.

Initially, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found in AT&T's favor; it found that the device was a "foreign attachment" subject to AT&T control and that unrestricted use of the device could, in the commission's opinion, result in a general deterioration of the quality of telephone service.[1]


The court's decision, which exonerated Hush-A-Phone and prohibited further interference by AT&T toward Hush-A-Phone users, stated that AT&T's prohibition of the device was not "just, fair, and reasonable," as required under the Communications Act of 1934, as the device "does not physically impair any of the facilities of the telephone companies," nor did it "affect more than the conversation of the user."

This victory for Hush-A-Phone was widely considered a watershed moment in the development of a secondary market for terminal equipment, in addition to contributing to the breakup of the Bell System. It and the related Carterfone decision were seen as precursors to the entry of MCI Communications and the development of more pervasive telecom competition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Phone Company Upheld in Ban on Hush-A-Phone," The New York Times, February 17, 1951, p. 29

External links[edit]

External images
Hush-A-Phone ad, from Telephone History Pages by Mike Sandman
Hush-A-Phone ad, from Voice Silencer on Telephone Lets You Talk in Secret in Popular Mechanics, February 1941